Cabbage Tree Hats

Rosie Boylan, Sydney hat maker, talks about  Australia’s first cottage craft, the Cabbage Tree Hat.

Woven in Australia by first settlers and convicts to protect themselves from the hot Australian sun, the Cabbage Tree hat became the symbol of the ‘new chums’ of  early colonial Sydney. As a milliner for stage and screen, I have been approached on many occasions to recreate the Cabbage tree hat for characters who tell stories of our early settlement history.

My research for this talk has taken me on my own historical discoveries to Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks, The Powerhouse Museum and The State Library, along with information gleaned from the Luton Hat Museum in England and the Museum of  Straw in Signa, Italy

On display will be a sample Cabbage tree hat made in the 1990’s collectively by weaver Jim Wallace and myself.

Below is the promo from the Manly Art Gallery

Goldminer, 1861 oil painting by J. Anderson, image courtesy State Library NSW

Goldminer, 1861 oil painting by J. Anderson, image courtesy State Library NSW

Manly Art Gallery and Museum is delighted to present a mens hat double bill: two talks on two very esoteric areas of mens’ costume: the Cabbage Tree hat and the caps of the Rugby Internationals.

Renowned hat maker Rosie Boylan will present a fascinating talk on the making and use of the Cabbage Tree hat. Woven from the fibre of the native palm Livistonia Australis, this is perhaps the most distinctive form of Australian headwear ever made. Rosie has worked for stage and screen for 30 years, most recently on Baz Lurhman’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Rosie says hats tell the story of Sydney’s history, and the Cabbage Tree hat sits at its very beginnings.

Jim Boyce, President of the Manly Warringah and Pittwater Historical Society, will describe the history of the glorious caps awarded to Rugby Internationals for over a century. Jim, who is himself an ex-Rugby International, has amassed a collection of caps and memorabilia dating back to the 1890s, and will show fine examples of these silk velvet, metallic braided and tasselled wonders during his talk.

These two talks will take place in the surrounds of the museum’s exhibition ‘On the Beach: Gems from the Manly swimwear collection’, an extraordinary display of the history of swimwear as a tale of changing attitudes to public modesty.


Rosie Boylan

8 Responses to Cabbage Tree Hats

  1. Clementine 27/07/2015 at 4:55 pm #

    Dear Rosie,

    I hope this finds you well. I’m devastated I missed this talk, it must have been fascinating and what a wonderful adventure you must have had researching the cabbage palm hats!!

    I’m wondering if it would be possible to talk to you about cabbage palm? I’m hoping to experiment with weaving the fibre for an small installation not as a hat but a sculpture, and wondering if the process of collection and preparation is similar to that of pandanus. When you made your hats did you collect and process the palm yourself or is there someone out there who is knowledgable in this area?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    With very best wishes,


  2. Tony Chester (cabbage tree palms 13/08/2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Rosie, it would be talk to you on yur return

  3. Paul Sinclair 01/05/2016 at 1:37 pm #

    Dear Rosie
    I am writing to you regarding the process required to treat the palm leaf prior to making a hat. I am fortunate enough to live amongst a grove of mature cabbage trees and as a fisherman would like to make a hat of this narure.
    Would you have any knowledge as to websites or text explaining this process as I am struggling to access any information to help me at this stage.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Yours Sincerely
    Paul Sinclair

  4. Louise Reddy 23/02/2017 at 1:17 pm #

    Hi Rosie,
    On my trip to Darwin last year I became fascinated with cabbage leaf hats. Unfortunately I was in able to buy one from the top end. Was wondering if you know where I maybe able to purchase one.
    I really wanted to buy from locals on my trip.
    Would love to know if you can direct me in the right direction.
    Regards Louise Reddy

    • rosie boylan 16/05/2017 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi Louise,
      If you would like to call me we can chat about this as there a re a few options available in Sydney.

  5. Pat Emmett 29/01/2018 at 4:32 pm #

    My 4 x’s grandfather made Cabbage tree hats.Two were in a museum,however the handwritten in pencil tag that named him as the maker and the donor(who he made them for)had been removed last time I saw them,very sad.He was a convict and a very early inhabitant of Illawarra.The hats were very finely plaited.I wish I could buy one?Is there anyone making&selling?

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